A ‘Star’ is born
On Fox’s new Lee Daniels drama? She’s a white girl living in a black world
So many of us have that one white friend (or friends) who make us wonder whether they could’ve been black in a past life. Cultured, woke, however you want to call it, this person sticks out, but fits in. Star — the star of the new Lee Daniels-directed Fox series Star, which premiered Wednesday night after the fall finale of Daniels’ Empire — is that friend.
The show’s trailers (see above), left it was unclear what race Star was. Perhaps mixed? Or maybe Hispanic, giving off a young Jennifer Lopez vibe? But as portrayed by Jude Demorest, Star is white — and comfortable in her identity (unlike Rachel Dolezal) — though she’s very much a part of a primarily black world.
The show follows an all-girl group of aspiring singers featuring Star, her biracial sister Simone (Brittany O’Grady), whose father is black, and a brown-skinned Alexandra (Ryan Destiny) — the perfect medley of melanin we’ve seen in real-life girl groups such as Fifth Harmony and the mid-2000s Bad Boy group Danity Kane, but never in a scripted television series. “Star having a half-black sister and (being) this white girl in a black environment — we hadn’t seen anything like it before,” Star co-creator Tom Donaghy told USA Today.
“[We hoped] to be able to bring some sort of unity. It was in some subconscious way, a political statement,” added Daniels.
In the pilot, both Star and Simone escape foster care — one does so legally, the other illegally — before scooping up the far more privileged Alexandra, whom Star met on Instagram, on their way to the black mecca that is Atlanta in search of a record deal. The trio shacks up with Star and Simone’s long-lost Bible-thumping godmother Carlotta (Queen Latifah), who puts them to work in her in-house beauty salon. Here, in the epicenter of black female life, Star’s race and identity is often criticized. “You got a white girl in here messing up my hair,” one of the customers says, storming out of the salon before Star faces the peanut gallery comments of her coworkers. Yet a tone that Daniels sets early in his lead character is her fortitude. Star is trill, and always claps back. “You’re a racist, b—-!” Star retorts to one of her skeptics.
Unlike in Empire, race — and racial stereotypes — is a central theme Star addresses head-on, partially because of the two contrasting environments of each show. The characters in Empire have already achieved stardom and prosperity, living with the mindset of, “N——, we made it!” Those in Star, however, are hungry for success, still in the “started from the bottom” phase of their ascension.
The show, which will return on Jan. 4, has potential, not solely because of its star power — Queen Latifah, Lenny Kravitz and Benjamin Bratt — but rather revolving around the uniqueness of each member of the girl group, played by three actresses in their first major roles.
Star is the down white girl who isn’t afraid to twerk a little something at Magic City (word to Future Hendrix) to catch the attention of a music manager. Simone is the stoner with an addictive personality who could potentially hurt the group more than help it. And Alexandra is the goody two-shoes bossy type who’s trying to find an identity separate from that of her superstar musician father Roland Crane (Kravitz) — a fact about herself that’s kept secret from the group.
When thinking of Star, it’s hard not remember characters such as Mariah Carey’s Billy Frank from the 2001’s Glitter, or Beyoncé’s Deena Jones from the 2006’s Dreamgirls — both of whom eventually outgrew their girl group and went solo to the tune of massive stardom. Given the show’s title, this almost seems like an inevitable destiny for Star. And if it does, there will be tension. How race will play a role in this narrative is unclear after one episode, but — and especially in these times — it’s going to be interesting.